Whether you’re an Account Director at an ad agency, an in-house Marketing Executive, or a client, the barrier between knowing what you want from your marketing collateral and trying to explain this to your designer can be infuriating. Help is at hand as Claire Baldwin breaks down some basic terminology that will bowl over your designer at your next meeting.

When you’re working with a graphic designer, you sometimes come across elements of the design that you’re not quite sure about but don’t know how to explain why. A basic knowledge of graphic design terminology can help you to better explain amendments rather than saying “It’s just a bit … you know. Can you make it look cleaner? I’ll know what I want when I see it.”



Copy is the proper term for the text part of a design or layout. There are various different bits of copy that you can refer to, such as body copy, which is the main bulk of the text.

Serif or Sans Serif Font

A serif is the decorative stroke or curve at the ends of lines on letters. These can be elaborate or quite basic. Think Georgia or Times New Roman. The word ‘sans’ is Latin for ‘without’, so these fonts are plainer and don’t include the extra flourishes. Think Arial or Calibri.


Kerning is the amount of space between two individual letters. It’s used to create a pleasing balance of space between each character. Check out our article on Zara’s new logo design for an example of extreme kerning.


While kerning concerns the spaces between individual pairs of letters, tracking is the overall spacing of a group of letters. Normal, tight and loose tracking can be used to adjust the visual density of a block of text.


Leading (pronounced like the metal) is the space between lines of text. You might have seen this in word processing and design software as ‘line height’ but this is the proper typographical term. Tight leading can make copy difficult to read, while loose leading can cause copy to look sparse.



Hierarchy is the arrangement and design of elements by importance. This is often broken up into levels, with Level One being the most important element, such as the title, followed by Level Two, which might be a subheading or image, while Level Three might be the body copy.


When dealing with copy, single words or short lines can sometimes fall at the end of a paragraph or column, causing an uneven appearance. This lonely-looking bit of text is called an orphan.


The term widow usually refers to either a line that ends a paragraph but falls at the top of the following page or column, or a line that starts a new paragraph but falls at the bottom of the page, splitting it from the rest of the content.

White Space or Negative Space

While it’s referred to as white space, this term refers to any area of the design that is left blank, so it can be any colour. White space can give a design room to breathe and stop things from feeling cluttered. It’s tempting to want to ‘make the most of the space’ by filling it with something, but white space can be a very effective use of space.


Logotype or Wordmark

When referring to a company’s logo, people are often talking about their logotype or workmark. This is a visually unique representation of the company’s name for branding purposes. Think Coca Cola, FedEx, Disney … basically any company logo that’s a stylised version of their name.

Logomark or Brandmark

This is a type of logo that doesn’t contain the company name but instead uses an image or symbol to represent the brand. So instead of the company name “Apple”, you usually just see the apple-shaped logo. Brandmarks can be accompanied by a logotype, but often stand alone for simplicity.

Thumbnail Sketch

This is a quick drawing of a potential concept, allowing the designer to share lots of different ideas without having to spend too much time on those that will be discarded. While it’s called a sketch, this might be a digital design created on the computer but without the full care and attention that a final design would receive.